SAO PAULO (AP) — When Brazil started playing Vinicius Jr. and Raphinha on the flanks during World Cup qualifying, Neymar surprised his coach by praising his new attacking teammates.
“These kids are wicked, boss,” the Paris Saint-Germain striker told Tite, who recalled the conversation in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “They are relentless.”
The 30-year-old Neymar is in great shape ahead of this year’s World Cup in Qatar, but Brazil doesn’t depend on him as much as four years ago. Tite has so many options up front that at least two strikers at top European clubs are likely to be left out.
Neymar is expected to play behind the center forward, no matter if that is Richarlison, Gabriel Jesus or Roberto Firmino. Other exciting players, like Manchester United winger Antony, could also get playing time either as a starter or coming off the bench.
“We have a great number of rising players. It hurts not to bring them all,” Tite told the AP. “I tell them to be at their best in their clubs, and then we will see.”
Brazil will face Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon in Group G.
No matter what happens in Qatar, Tite will leave the job after six years as coach. He hoped to complete one entire World Cup cycle, and he has achieved that.
Unlike four years ago, Tite said he is ready to be quicker in making substitutions as the tournament goes on. In Russia, he kept Jesus in the starting lineup even though the striker didn’t score a goal in the team’s five matches.
This time, Tite knows that Casemiro and Fred are not having their best days at Manchester United, and that Fabinho and Bruno Guimaraes can take up their roles. The coach has also noted that defender Eder Militao can also play as a right back, a position with few options available.
He has also suggested he won’t hesitate in replacing Neymar or Vinicius if he thinks they are not performing as well as the team needs.
For the first time in years, Brazil doesn’t have obvious options for right back and left back.
Danilo is the likely starter on the right, even though he has played in a more central role at Juventus. Another option could be 39-year-old Dani Alves, who missed the tournament in Russia because of injury and now has a leadership role in the team.
That position on the right will be key since Tite wants to play 38-year-old Thiago Silva in central defense.
No one knows for sure who will be Brazil’s left back. Alex Sandro is the frontrunner, but Tite has also tested Alex Telles in that position. Neither have the attacking profile that Brazil once had for that position.
Brazil has goal scorers of different characteristics to play in the penalty box.
Richarlison is expected to start if he recovers from a left calf injury. He scored five goals at the Tokyo Olympics in Brazil’s gold-medal run and added another six in South American qualifying.
Tite’s second option appears to be Jesus, who has been scoring for Arsenal in the Premier League this season. He is quicker than Richarlison, but also shorter than the Tottenham player.
Brazil can also play Firmino, who is recovering his form at Liverpool, as a false nine. Neymar has also played that role for the national team, which would allow Lucas Paquetá or Philippe Coutinho to play in his position.
Tite could pull a surprise and use Flamengo striker Pedro at the tournament. He has scored 12 goals in 12 matches in the Copa Libertadores.
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